Bucharest is the concrete wonderland capital of Romania, and definitely a place to visit if you like chewing game, hiring escorts, gambling and walking around an Old Town-cum-excavation site. It was once known as "Little Paris" but I assure you that it is nothing like Paris.
The tourist street map did not indicate anything as useful as metro stations, tourist sites or a scale, but it did include some lurid advertisements for escorts and massage parlours.
Lipscani: The historic quarter was billed as the place to experience the authentic charming part of town as it was full of interesting shops, galleries and cafes. Well, unless you're an antiques dealer or am in the market for a flourescent white wedding dress, I'm not sure what the appeal is. Further, the cobblestone streets had all been unearthed so it felt like we were walking in a war zone - grim, grim, grim.
Happily, set in this waste land was the jewel-like Biserica Stavropoleos with its glorious frescos and restful courtyard, and when we passed it the mystical atmosphere was heightened by the chants of the monks inside.
Muzeul Taranului: A broad collection of Romanian peasant-related objects and life under communism, including intricately embroidered clothing, a wooden church, a completely constructed farmhouse, a massive windmill and portraits of Ceausescu. The descriptions were all extremely odd, with strange metaphorical references, communist-style references to 'victory over hardship', 'not rich but rich in life' and something about Romania being in the chair zone, while eastern countries are no longer in the chair zone (??). I have no idea how this won European Museum of the Year in 1996.
Ateneului Roman: Home of the Filharmonic George Enescu and apparently the most beautiful building in the city, although we were not able to go inside. The garden had the most bizarre topiary - a green furry pianist at a green furry grand piano.
The Romanian countryside is famous for its castles and in particular its association with Vlad Tepes aka Dracula. So we decided to do a mammoth day trip into the heart of Transylvania.Peles, the summer palace of the first king of Romania. It was quite beautiful on the outside, imposingly set amongst the hardy forest. After a disorganised tourist bunfight to get into the building, our guide abruptly guided us through numerous dour overdecorated rooms filled with armour, gilded furniture and a procession of ugly portraits of the royal family ("Come. Yes. Appreciate this. Yes."). Our need to retreat from the rain meant a healthy lunch at the nearby cafe consisting of 4 cream cakes and a packet of chips, before taking some quick pictures of the other castle, Pelisor. Bran Castle was actually pretty cool. You could climb through secret passageways and imagine vampires just around the corner and bats screeching at night.
Brasov - Bucharest: Brasov old town was everything that Lipscani should have been, and wasn't. It was cute and clean, with brightly painted buildings set against the stunning backdrop of a steep forested mountainside. If we'd had more time it would have been nice to relax at one of the shaded cafes, but time pressures and lack of options meant a shameful visit to McDonalds.
Don't expect to eat well in Romania and you won't be disappointed.
I hear the nightlife in Bucharest is wild and cheap. Unfortunately, Tim aka Snuffleupagus suffered the worst hayfever of his life thanks to the city's dust and pollution, which meant a hasty retreat to our airconditioned hotel after dinner. On our last day we did desperately try to find the interesting-sounding Laptaria lui Enache/La Motor or Cafeneaua Actorilor, to no avail. If anyone can follow the directions to enter a 'gloomy tower block at the back of the National Theatre', in a city full of gloomy tower blocks, please let me know.
Biserica Stavropoleos: Str Stavropoleos 4
T: +40 21 313 4747
Ateneului Roman: Str Benjamin Franklin 1-3
T: +40 315 87 98
Muzeul Taranului: Sos Kiseleff 3
T: +40 653 53 60
Palatul Parlamentului: Calea 13 Septembrie 1
T: +40 414 14 26, +40 311 36 11
F: +40 312 09 02
Muzeul National Peles: Stra Pelesului 2, Sinaia
T: +40 244 310 918
Bran Castle: Stra G-ral Traian Mosioiu 498, Brasov
I-O Espresso: Stra Demetrie Dobrescu 5
T: +40 21 315 60 98
Violeta's Vintage Kitchen: Str Batistei 23
T: +40 21 310 06 81
Casa Doina: Sos Kiseleff 4,
T: +40 222 31 79
Burebista Vanatoresc: Str Batistei 14,
T: +40 211 89 29
Laptaria lui Enache/La Motor: B-dul Nicolae Balcescu 2
T: +40 21 315 85 08
Cafeneaua Actorilor: B-dul Nicolae Balcescu 2
T: +40 721 90 08 42
Hotel Moxa: Calea Victoriei 129 intersection with strada Mihail Moxa 4
T: +40 21 650 55 55
Casino Palace: Calea Victoriei 133
t: +40 231 02 20